Friday, January 18, 2013

Philosophy and Falafel

Welcome to my blog. It’s taken me a long time to create one because, frankly, it sounded too much like "the blob," a sci-fi movie popular when I was a kid. But friends assure me that this is an important venue to share information. And since recently a fan letter came pouring in, I know that the whole world is interested in what I am thinking. Seriously, I am happy to share occasional reflections about Qigong, Tea, Native American (First Nations) spirituality, and related topics. Basically I am sharing my philosophy of life, and this brings me to a story.

In the early 1970s I was studying Japanese Tea Ceremony with a living legend, the great Tea Master Millie Johnstone. It was a beautiful idyllic time in my youth. Every week, for about five years, I would take the subway from Queens to Millie’s condo across the street from the United Nations. I would have my tea lesson, then serve her tea informally, then enjoy a delicious home made lunch, sip expensive port wine with Millie’s husband, and finish the afternoon by demonstrating Tai Chi for Millie. She loved watching the slow, flowing movements. On my way back to the subway station, I usually stopped at a falafel stand run by an elderly Egyptian gentleman (or he appeared elderly (he was probably younger than I am now!). I sat on one of the two or three stool-height chairs near the table, ate my delicious falafel with tahini sauce, and, when business was slow, conversed with the owner. He took a liking to me. One day, the gentleman, whose name I forget--but let’s call him Akbar, because he truly was (the word means "Great") - asked me, "Tell me, what is your philosophy of life?" Such a simple and deep question. "What do you mean?" I asked. "Everyone should have a philosophy of life based on their life experiences, whether good or bad, easy or difficult. What has life taught you? What does it mean to be alive and to live a good life?" I realized that in spite of years of study of meditation, Tai Chi, and Tea, I was tongue-tied. I replied, with some embarrassment, "I’m not sure." Akbar gave me a kind and compassionate look. He knew I would think about it, and I have for the past forty years. His question has encouraged my lifelong passion for learning and wisdom.

I think that questions are more important than answers. A poor question has one answer. A good question has many answers, and the very best, no answer at all.